Nutrient Synergy: Why Our Diets Should be a Variety Show - Ann Gentry

Nutrient Synergy: Why Our Diets Should be a Variety Show

Some food combinations are matches made in heaven. Oatmeal with berries, brown rice with veggies, peanut butter with apples: they taste like they belong together. And they do. Turns out, our taste buds know what’s up: when we eat whole foods in their delicious combinations, their nutrients work together to create a powerful effect in the body.

In other words, the nutritional content of whole foods is greater than the sum of its parts. Calcium can’t do much without Vitamin D. Iron can’t go anywhere without Vitamin C. Fatty acids need antioxidants to be delivered to the brain intact. That’s why certain foods go so happily together – they were meant to be on the same plate.

People Cannot Live off Vitamins Alone. Vitamins are a positive addition to any well-balanced diet, but they can’t make up for a poor diet. Without the foundation of a healthy diet, vitamins won’t do much to prevent against degenerative disease and oxidative stress.

Studies show that those who obtain their antioxidant vitamins (such as Vitamins C and E) from whole foods showed lower rates of cognitive decline and dementia. On the other hand, those who relied on supplements to get their antioxidants had the same chance of developing dementia as someone who took no vitamins.

In other words, there’s a lot more to our food than what ingredient labels lead us to believe. Take Vitamin E, for example. There are eight natural forms of this vitamin found in whole foods, but only one makes it into commercial vitamins (alpha-tocopherol). Having all eight forms of Vitamin E is best – it reduces oxidative stress and inflammation to a greater degree than from alpha-tocopherol alone. Eating your Vitamin E-rich fruits and vegetables will help slow cognitive decline, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and protect from oxidative stress far more than any synthetic Vitamin E supplement.

Good Synergy Meal Ideas. As nutrients work together to deliver the best possible results, so should our meals. Our meals should be made up of mostly vegetables and should have an array of colors. Bright, colorful foods are nutritious ones.

Stir Fry: Mix up some goodness! Toss broccoli, leafy greens, red and yellow peppers, tomatoes, with a whole grain like brown rice or quinoa and your choice of protein. I prefer using quality whole soy products like tempeh or tofu, but even a legume like red lentils could suffice.  The Vitamin C in the broccoli, peppers, and tomatoes will enable our bodies to absorb the iron in both the whole soy and grain.

Oatmeal and Berries: Heart-healthy whole grain oats with strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries pack an iron-fortified punch with the vitamin C the body needs to absorb the iron.

Whole Grain Pasta with Broccoli, Chickpeas, and Shrimp: The folate in the whole grain pasta and broccoli meets the vitamin B6 in the chickpeas and the vitamin B12 in shrimp to bring you a reduction of the risk of heart disease and stroke, while maintaining brain health.

Brown Rice with Fish (or Organic Chicken) and Asparagus: This is another strong combination that brings you the perfect synergy of B6, B12, and folate for neurological function and lower risk of stroke.

Greek Yogurt with Pumpkin Seeds, Raisins, and Oats:The potassium in raisins, the magnesium in the oatmeal and pumpkin seeds, and the calcium in the yogurt work together to promote proper nerve function and electrolyte balance and reduce blood pressure. These nutrients don’t work well individually, but taken together, they’re a dream team.

These are just a few examples of healthy meals that deliver nutrient synergy. Your goal is to find the healthiest items in each food group and put them together in the tastiest, healthiest combinations. Viola! You have yourself a brain-health masterpiece that’s delicious and beneficial for a long, strong life.

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